On The Way To Via

Driving along Birch Bay Drive, you might get so distracted by the expansive waterfront view that you might miss this little nondescript building perched over the beach. But you shouldn’t. You should stop, because this café and bistro is not a dive bar. It’s not a roadhouse. It’s not a fish-n-chips shack. It’s a very special gem right in the heart of Birch Bay.

Your adventure begins with Skinny Dog, who is a motif, a mascot, and the namesake of the Skinny Dog Lounge. Skinny Dog is the creation of owner Yoon Oh’s brother, Jefferson Oh. Not only does Skinny Dog greet you at the front door—in the form of a charming painting—there are more paintings throughout the restaurant featuring Skinny Dog. There are many creations by Jefferson, in fact. But these aren’t typical paintings — each is done by hand. No, literally, with his fingertips. Yes, fingerpainting. And they are stunning, from the long, sleek bar to the paintings in the bistro, Jefferson’s fingertips have graced all the walls. And the paintings are rich and colorful, much like Birch Bay itself.

Yoon Oh bought Via in 2012. A native of Korea, Oh moved to Birch Bay for the leisurely pace and the beautiful views of the bay. The name Via sounds like the Korean for “It’s raining” as well as its common meaning of being on the way to somewhere. Oh put a lot into the renovations, and his brother Jefferson painted extensively for the café. Three months after they opened, a huge tide rolled in, flooding the entire restaurant to the second floor, blowing out the windows, and depositing mud and debris everywhere. One of Jefferson’s salvaged paintings still hangs in the dining room, damaged but still there, evoking the spirit of Via. Through the heartbreak and devastation, employees, neighbors, and community members came together and Via was rebuilt in just under three months.

That tragedy now a distant memory, the hardwood floors, expansive views, and elegant but unpretentious décor make it a very pleasant stop for lunch or a sunset dinner. The lunch menu is hearty and satisfying, with crisp, delicious fish-n- chips, a salmon sandwich, a crab sandwich, and a great burger. Dinner is classic fare, with steak and lobster, crab cakes, Chicken Portofino, Chicken Serrano, and salmon. The entrees are served with perfectly cooked vegetables and potato options. The prices are reasonable for the portions, and the views are stunning. The second floor can be rented for special occasions, and the upper deck can accommodate 50 guests. On a summer day, you’d be remiss not to enjoy a tender salmon dinner from up there.

The Skinny Dog Lounge has a wonderful dark quality, making it a versatile spot for either a quiet drink or a rowdy night of karaoke. The bar itself is covered in Jefferson’s beautiful paintings—portraits of people he knows, iconography of Birch Bay, and that skinny dog. They often have live music as well as karaoke and loads of local character—and many characters — to keep it all very interesting. Happy hour is from 2-6 p.m. every day, and there are bar specials every day. Via also hosts special events like Super Hero Night and Movie Night. It’s a great place to meet up with friends and have a great time. Skinny Dog Lounge also boasts great bartenders and excellent service.

Oh is a humble man, but he clearly takes pride in this lovely place that he’s had to build twice. May the waves stay at bay, because this seaside café deserves to stand the test of time.

"It’s a very special gem right in the heart of Birch Bay."